Excerpts from
The Heretic's Feast
A History of Vegetarianism

by Colin Spencer

Lebanon, N.H.: University Press of New England, 1995
(originally published in England by Fourth Estate, 1993)

The nomadic mind is far more alert, with greater and more acute powers of observation, able to make connections and act upon them swiftly. The nomad also has a keener sense of the past, of what was lived through and what has been left behind, and in such regret or nostalgia are the seeds of legend and myth. (p. 19)

One can also see how, in a community structured around the number of cattle owned by its inhabitants, the idea that their meat was unnecessary to human survival would seem heretical -- it would be not simply a criticism of meat-eating but a criticism of power. Power itself would also come to mean moral worth and therefore to deserve reverence. Not to eat meat, or to frown on the captivity and killing of animals, went to the heart of society. (p. 29)

The very act of being vegetarian suggests that Mosaic law is entirely irrelevant, that the vegetarian lives in a state of greater purity and is therefore closer to God than the orthodox Jew by representing the era before the Fall. The Christian vegetarian was also breaking with these traditions, that holy sanction whereby God provides for humankind out of his munificence. For Christians, it was only acceptable to renounce meat-eating if you called it asceticism and, better still, went off into the desert to practise it. (p. 127)

Perhaps the only good publicity in the Bible for a vegetarian diet is in Daniel, when Daniel is befriended by the prince of the eunuchs and begs for 'pulse to eat and water to drink' for him and his friends, rather than the meat and wine which Nebuchadnessar sends them. After ten days 'their countenances appeared fairer and fatter in flesh than all the children which did eat the portion of the King's meat.' (p. 199, note)

And further, [Socrates] argues, the pursuit of luxurious meat-eating, the need to satisfy a population's lavish needs, leads inevitably to war. (p. 89)

In order for humans to allow natural rights to animals they had first to find them for themselves. (p. 222)

The position that abstention from meat has always put its exponents in, without their having consciously sought it -- that of questioning the validity of the foundations of society -- is inevitable. It is these questions, nagging and insidious, which society has always resented; irritated too by the unspoken moral superiority of the practitioners of vegetarianism, its first defence is always ridicule. (p. 294)

Ten acres of land will support 61 people on a diet of soya beans, 24 on wheat, 10 on maize but only 2 on meat from cattle. (p. 341, note)

We do not adequately realise today how very deep within our psyche is the reverence for the consumption of meat or how ancient in our history is the idealogical abstention from the slaughter of animals for food.
     The precise beginnings of the vegetarian ethic are lost in the priestly cults of Ancient Egypt, but through the Orphic movement vegetarianism became one of the influences upon Pythagoras, who gave his name to the diet. After his death a clear thread can be traced from antiquity to present times. In the East, in India and China, as part of Hinduism and Buddhism, vegetarianism has flourished and numbers millions of converts. In the West the story has been one of persecution, suppression and ridicule. (p. 345)

Several facts are indisputable: as omnivores, human being can easily survive and sustain themselves in full vigour on a diet without animal flesh; what is more, such a diet is on the whole healthier; and such a diet, without cruelty or unnecessary killing, is more humane. (p. 347-348)

'[Animals] are not brethren; they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.' (p. 348, quote from Henry Beston, 1928, The Outermost House)